Coronavirus cases rise as experts warn 'fake news' could make outbreak worse

Ian Collier, news reporter

China's Hubei province says there have been thousands of new cases of the coronavirus as experts warned drastic measures to stop its spread have been "too little, too late".

There is now a total of 64,441 suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 , the disease which is caused by the coronavirus, worldwide.

Of these cases, 63,859 are in mainland China. There have been 1,383 deaths from COVID-19.

The figures have been collated by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, said the figures show drastic measures implemented by China to stop the spread of the coronavirus "appear to have been too little, too late".

In other developments:

"Fake news" could make COVID-19 worse

New research has found the rise of "fake news" - including misinformation and inaccurate advice on social media - could make disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 worse.

In an analysis of how the spread of misinformation affects the spread of disease, scientists at East Anglia University (UEA) said any successful efforts to stop people sharing fake news could help save lives.

Professor of medicine Paul Hunter said: "When it comes to COVID-19, there has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and fake news circulating on the internet - about how the virus originated, what causes it and how it is spread.

"Misinformation means that bad advice can circulate very quickly - and it can change human behaviour to take greater risks."

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The researchers created theoretical simulations of outbreaks of norovirus, flu and monkeypox.

Their models took into account studies of real behaviour, how different diseases are spread, incubation periods and recovery times, and the speed and frequency of social media posting and real-life information sharing.

They also took into account how lower trust in authorities is linked to a tendency to believe conspiracies, how people interact in "information bubbles" online, and the fact that "worryingly, people are more likely to share bad advice on social media than good advice from trusted sources".

The researchers found that a 10% reduction in the amount of harmful advice being circulated has a mitigating impact on the severity of an outbreak, while making 20% of a population unable to share harmful advice has the same positive effect.

Cruise passengers disembark in Cambodia and Japan

Passengers who spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over coronavirus fears have started disembarking in Cambodia.

The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in Sihanoukville on Thursday.

It had anchored offshore early in the morning to allow officials to board and collect samples from passengers with any signs of ill health or flu-like symptoms.

After tests, no one on board was found to be carrying the virus, Cambodia's health ministry said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses, with some tourists handing him chocolates in exchange as a "show of our appreciation".

The ship's operator, Holland America Line, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp, said charter flights were being organised to help passengers return home.

Meanwhile another cruise ship, which has been quarantined off a Japanese port, has more than 200 people confirmed with the disease.

Officials have said they will allow some elderly people to disembark on Friday.